Ocala, Florida — Ocala made history today as more than 1,000 people attended the Florida Southern Pride Ride rally on Sunday, July 12 in support of the Confederate flag. An Ocala police officer told Ocala Post that he believes the number of vehicles and motorcycles that attended was actually closer to 2,000, which means the number of people was even greater.
Some vehicles had as many as eight people per vehicle arrive at the event.
The theme of the Florida Southern Pride Ride rally was, “Heritage Not Hate.”
Even though the rally, which was organized by David Stone, of Ocala, was not scheduled to start until 1 p.m., riders began arriving at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion around 10 a.m. By 11:20 a.m., the Pavilion was packed with people.
Stone also paid for eight Ocala Police Officers, who provided security for the event.
People from all over Florida and other states attended the event.
Ocala Post spoke with individuals from Jacksonville, Miami, Gainesville, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia.
Everyone was very respectful toward Ocala Post staff, and as staff made their way through the event, everyone seemed to be respectful toward one another as well.
There was no arguing, fighting, or hate speech. In fact, four staff members from Ocala Post covered the event, and not one of them reported hearing abusive or foul language. However, the word “love” was heard quite a few times, which people were usually directing toward each other.
This event came about after Marion County Interim County Administrator Bill Kauffman made the decision to remove the Third National Confederate flag from the McPherson Governmental Complex grounds in June. The flag has since been returned.
Marion County Spokeswoman Barbra Hernandez said, “With the direct responsibility to oversee county-managed facilities such as the Fallen Officers Memorial, our interim county administrator instructed staff to properly remove it last Wednesday. It was replaced with one of the Marion County government seal.” Adding, “Marion County is respectful of the flag’s historical meaning, but also aware of the perceived connotations and heightened public sentiment since the recent church tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina.”
The Board voted to return the flag known as the “Third National Confederate Flag” to a historical display of the flags of Florida located on the McPherson Governmental Complex grounds. The flag has been there (along with four others shown in the attached documents and a POW/MIA flag) since the historical display of flags was established in the 1990s.
On Saturday, a protester took down the flagpole and Confederate flag. Although protesters said the flag “fell,” authorities said they believe the flag was intentionally taken down.
The flag was later replaced, and the investigation into the incident is ongoing.
The Board had requested Historic Commission and staff feedback by September. The Historic Commission will meet again in August, as there is no meeting scheduled for the month of July. The committee’s recommendations will come before the Board for consideration at a regular Board meeting.
Multiple people who attended the rally Sunday pointed out that they had the American flag flying higher than the Confederate flag out of respect.
Ocala Post spoke with one man who was extremely passionate about the Confederate flag.
Raymond Williams Jr, who is black, said he does “not believe the flag stands for racism at all.” Williams said he has heard the black community associating the flag with the KKK, but he said there were more members of the KKK flying the American flag than the Confederate flag.
He said, “If you are going to hate the Confederate flag you might as well hate the American flag.”
“People need to educate themselves on the true meaning of the Confederate flag,” Williams said. “I support the flag, and if anyone has a problem with that, I’m sorry, but it’s not racist. I am from the south and it is my southern heritage.”
“I take it for what it is…hard working, good folk, country folk,” Williams said. “I have many Confederate flags, and there is nothing wrong with it.”
All of the black people who attended the event told Ocala Post that they, too, feel the flag is about heritage. One woman said that to her, it means heritage and love for one another.
Joshua Warren, who was wearing a Florida Southern Pride Ride T-shirt, said, “I am here representing the flag because I don’t want anyone to take it [down], just because some irresponsible person made bad choices.”
Warren’s good friend, Ron Brooks, said he also came to the rally in defense of the flag.
Flo Gray, 78, of Ocala, said she was very happy that it was a peaceful ride. “I am enjoying being out here today,” Gray said. She went on to say, “I think everyone needs to stand up for their rights.”
Gray said (the flag) is not just about war.
Also in attendance was Marion County Commissioner Earl Arnett. He addressed the enormous crowd and asked everyone to represent themselves in a peaceful, respectful manner when driving through the town. Arnett also vowed to keep the Confederate flag as a part of history in Marion County, at which time the crowd expressed their appreciation and let out a loud cheer.
Ocala Post only observed two people who were not in favor of the flag.
Laila Abdelaziz, 23, who came from Tampa, but was born in Palestine, said she thinks the flag represents white supremacy. She said people should care more about gun control rather than the Confederate flag.
The parade of vehicles began to exit the Pavilion around 1 p.m., and it took approximately 35 minutes before every vehicle was through the gates.
The parade was lead out by the General Lee and Boss Hog from the 80s hit TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
As the last of the vehicles passed thought the gates, Ocala Post observed OPD Sergeant Erica Hay locking the gates.
When asked why, Sergeant Hay said that multiple threats by individuals who live in the Northroads Apartments next to the pavilion had been made. She said that a group of people had made threats to shoot at people attending the rally. Therefore, the gates had to be locked and any remaining people were evacuated from the area.
The rally goers were not allowed to return to the Pavilion.
Shortly after every vehicle had left and the gates were locked, several shots were fired from the neighborhood of single story apartments beside the Pavilion. Several black males were seen running and “ducking” behind the buildings.
Moments later, several more shots were fired. Police said the second series of shots were clearly from a larger caliber gun than the first series of shots.
Dozens of black people in the neighborhood were screaming, at reporters and police, “F**k all of you people.” One woman shouted, “Ya’ll cops don’t care about black people.” Another said, “It’s white people’s fault we have to live in here.”
A man took off his shirt and yelled out, “I will kill all you crackas’.” He then stuck up both middle fingers.
A woman, who was shouting profanities at a police officer, said she had video evidence of the shooter(s). However, she refused to let police look at the video. She said, “You cops don’t ever care when we call you out here. You don’t care about our children.”
Police told Ocala Post that one of the women, who was screaming “f**k the police and white people,” had previously been arrested on drug charges.
Oddly enough, one of the women who was screaming “f**k white people,” was white herself.
According to records, police have responded to the area multiple times in reference to shootings, drugs, and beatings.
A large crowd of people gathered outside their apartments and began yelling at police. People were screaming, “You white people started it.” Another person yelled out, “I dare you to cross the fence you cracka’.”
OPD called out the Marion County Sheriff’s Office to assist with the shooting. Deputies entered the neighborhood armed with assault rifles, but the crowd would not cooperate.
When they arrived, people who lived in the complex were throwing up the “bird” and shouting “f**k you.”
One woman tried to tell the officer someone had driven through her neighborhood waving a flag, but the parade had gone in the opposite direction. Additionally, the street she lives on is a dead end road.
Residents in the neighborhood stated that motorcycle riders were riding down their street throwing beer bottles, and that is was the riders that were firing the shots. However, those statements were also false.
Ocala Post, Chanel 2 News, and Ocala police were on the scene and heard the shots. In addition to hearing gun fire, police said that the shots undoubtedly came from within the apartment complex.
Since everyone in the complex refused to cooperate with deputies and police, no arrests were made in the shooting.
In an e-mail, OPD Public Information Officer Angy Scroble said that the case is closed.
Authorities remained at the scene until after 3 p.m. to make sure the area was safe.
Thankfully, no one was injured during the shooting.
The rally itself was a very peaceful gathering of individuals who stand by their beliefs of “Heritage Not Hate.”
And even though it was nearly 100 degrees outside, the heat did not stop the crowd from coming.
“The bottom of my flip flops actually melted to the road. I had to move to a grassy area,” said Shelley, who only wanted Ocala Post to use her first name.
With a smile on his face, Stone said he did not expect such a large group of people to show up, but was glad that they did.
See the suspected shooter on video here.